But before we talk food, let's talk Judith Jones.
If you read and/or saw the movie Julie & Julia, you might remember Judith Jones. She's the one who took Julia's manuscript of Mastering the Art of French Cooking home and tried the Boeuf Bourguignon, liked it, and persuaded Knopf to publish the book. (Later, she was the one Julie got all excited about having for dinner, but then it rained, and Judith didn't make it.) (Is this confusing, talking about Julie, Julia, and Judith?)
So, yes, Judith Jones is legendary for having helped Julia Child reach her audience. But did you know: that's not all Judith Jones did? Not even close. In fact, she was the one who pulled Anne Frank's diaries out of the rejection pile--the rejection pile, people!--took them home, read them overnight, and persuaded her boss to reconsider.
Think about that.
Also? She was the editor who offered Sylvia Plath her first book contract.
So. Big stuff, Judith Jones.
And I am proud--sort of--to report a personal encounter with the legendary Mrs. Jones.
Back when I worked for Lynne Rossetto Kasper, one of my tasks was to help set up the interviews for the various guests. One week, Judith Jones was to be a guest, and I had a phone number from the publicist for her book, so I dialed the number.
And a voice answered, "Judith Jones."
Not "Judith Jones' office." Not "Judith Jones' line." Just: "Judith Jones."
To which I stupidly replied, "Is this Judith Jones?"
And she said yes.
And I froze.
This was Judith Jones! THE Judith Jones! I was used to getting secretaries and assistants and voicemail and PR people. But no! This was Judith Jones! Who would have thought she'd answer her own phone? I mean, geez, what the hell was she doing, answering her own damn phone? There should have been at least six or seven degrees of separation between someone like her and someone like me!
How could I be expected to talk to Judith Jones?? But somehow, I would have to, because Lynne needed me to set up the interview.
So I opened my mouth, and this is what came out: "Ahhhh....errrrrr.....hemmmm....if....yes....time....blrrrrr.....grz..."
Eventually I pulled myself together and accomplished my task. But to this day, I have a terrible picture in my head of Lynne calling Judith for the interview, and Judith saying, "Lynne, for all I know, your assistant is fully competent, but on the phone, she comes across as a blithering idiot."
This story came back to me in all its glory and pain when I was perusing Ms. Jones' latest book, The Pleasures of Cooking For One. Now, you might wonder why, when the Knit Think household is made up of four people (and two dogs, who like it when we drop human food on the floor, which happens frighteningly often), I would want a book about cooking for one. Well, duh--it was Judith Jones. But beyond that, eventually (sob) we'll be empty nesters, and many of the recipes would easily adapt to two. In fact, most involve cooking more than one serving, then re-creating the dish as something else the next day.
It's a lovely book. Very calm, very reassuring. And emotionally involving--she talks about how, after her husband died, she didn't think she wanted to cook anymore. But then she eventually realized she missed the pleasure of cooking, and the joy of eating what she'd created. What she's come up with is a book of simple yet elegant meals, most of which can be prepared quickly and easily, most of which don't need a laundry list of ingredients, most of which can be played with and adapted to what's on hand or in season.
Case in point.
A simple pasta dish. Note: the recipe follows. If you are smart--as I was not--you'd prep the ingredients ahead of time, instead of scrambling to chop and dice while things are cooking. Apparently I still have some of that blithering idiot gene functioning within me.
Shallots, garlic, olives, tuna, plum tomatoes, olive oil, white wine, a bit of parsley. Yes, I know it's not all pictured there. Also? The tuna? Should be really good quality, and preferably imported from Italy and canned in olive oil. It does make a difference. Really.
So you slice the shallots and saute them in olive oil. The olive oil from the bottle, not from the tuna can. In case you're a blithering idiot too.
When they're limp--like the Bizkit--add some sliced garlic and chopped tomatoes. Cook a bit, then splash in some wine. See? Isn't this fun? Any time you get to splash wine, you're going to have fun. Dump that expensive tuna in, and add the olives. You should be cooking your pasta at the same time, and now you can add a bit of the pasta water too. When the pasta is done, drain and toss into the pan with the sauce. Sprinkle with parsley.
My thanks to Knopf for sending me a review copy of this book, in spite of my being a blithering idiot.
Penne with Tuna, Plum Tomatoes, and Black Olives
2-3 ounces penne, according to appetite (fusilli or small shells are good too)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion or fat shallot, sliced thin
1 garlic clove, peeled and sliced thin
2 or 3 ripe plum tomatoes, cut into rough chunks
A splash of white wine
2 ½ - 3 ounces canned tuna in olive oil
10 Italian or Greek black olives, pitted and quartered
A generous handful of chopped fresh Italian parsley
Bring a large pot of water with a tablespoon of salt to a boil. When it is boiling vigorously, drop in the pasta and stir it around.
Heat the oil in a medium skillet, and sauté the onion or shallot 3-4 minutes, until limp. Add the garlic slices and tomatoes and sauté another minute. Splash in the wine and cook down. Break up the tuna, and drop chunky flakes into the pan. Stir in the olives. Add at least ¼ cup of the pasta water to thin the sauce. When the pasta is done al dente (taste to be sure), transfer it to the pan with the sauce, and stir it around, cooking the two together a minute. Add salt if needed, and more pasta water if the sauce is too dry. Spoon the pasta and sauce into a warm shallow bowl, and scatter parsley on top.